PG City Hall

The current Pacific Grove City Council seemed poised in the fall to accept future cannabis sales sooner rather than later, after a previous council strongly refused the idea in 2017. A consultant's presentation to the council on Dec. 19 was potentially the first step toward creating new ordinances that might allow for at least a single storefront dispensary in town as well as a couple of other cannabis-related businesses.

The presentation by David McPherson of HdL Companies on Dec. 19, pointed out that 69 percent of Pacific Grove voters supported Proposition 64 in November 2016, versus 56 percent statewide. P.G. voters were even more in favor of it than voters countywide, who supported the proposition by 63 percent.

Despite that strong support among its own voters, the last P.G. City Council rushed to ban recreational cannabis sales and deliveries before Prop. 64 took effect on Jan. 1, 2018. (The city already had a ban in place on medicinal cannabis.) At a public workshop on cannabis on Oct. 25, 2017, only one resident spoke in favor of allowing cannabis sales among several who were strongly against it. Two weeks later the council voted 7-0 in favor of a ban.

Then in January 2019, the P.G. Economic Development Commission decided to study cannabis and its potential economic impact on the town. A new commissioner, Tama Olver—who had just lost her bid to join the City Council in November 2018—agreed to lead a cannabis subcommittee. After taking a look at the potential positive economic impacts, the commission voted 5-0 to recommend the City Council allow one dispensary. It also recommended presenting a cannabis sales tax measure to voters.

Olver presented the commission’s recommendations to the council on Oct. 2, which in turn led to the consultant’s report in December. Instead of warming toward the idea, however, the overall council response to the consultant was cool, as one by one councilmembers said they wanted to wait and see what happened with dispensaries in other cities and state laws that are currently in a state of flux.

The cautious response may have been due to strong misgivings about allowing a dispensary from representatives from the Pacific Grove Unified School District, who had come that night for an earlier council vote to tighten regulations around smoking and tobacco sales. Superintendent Ralph Porras handed councilmembers a national news article that reported vaping cannabis had nearly doubled among U.S. teens in just one year.

“I spent 18 years as an educator in the ‘republic of Santa Cruz’ and the issue of (cannabis) availability was hugely detrimental to our schools there and so I wouldn’t want to even remotely see that come around for Pacific Grove,” Porras said. “Consider in the back of your mind you have 2,000 students in this town, and their families.”

Porras asked the council to consider strong buffer zones around schools, which he said might prove difficult in a town less than 2.25 square miles. The district’s director of safety, Barbara Martinez, asked for the “highest restrictions” on a storefront facility. “The epidemic is real, kids are vaping marijuana. We are losing lives to this,” she said, referring to EVALI, the e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury disease that has sickened more than 2,500 people and killed at least 55 since last year.

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Olver told the council she believes a cannabis anchor store could help the long-term economic vitality of the city. She encouraged councilmembers to look at how to manage potential problems rather than continue a ban.

Despite McPherson’s projections of between $180,000 and $270,000 in annual sales tax revenue from one storefront earning an average of $3 million in gross sales and one non-storefront business, such as a delivery service, earning an average of $1.5 million, councilmembers said they weren’t ready to make any decisions.

“I don’t think Pacific Grove is in a position right now to have to do anything,” Councilmember Robert Huitt said. He advocated watching what happens in other cities and make a decision later.

Councilmember Cynthia Garfield worried about a storefront normalizing cannabis use for minors but did want the city to consider regulating outside delivery businesses.

No future date was set to discuss cannabis in the future. The city's Downtown Business Improvement District advisory board is set to discuss retail cannabis at its next meeting, 8:30am, Wednesday, Jan. 8.

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